Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed by the simple task of deciding what to cook for dinner? Do you ever sit down after your kids have finally gone to bed, only to find it difficult to relax due to the nagging thought of those dishes waiting in the sink? Do you feel like your to-do list has grown to 1000 items?
The term "mental load" may not be something you've heard before, but if you're a mom of a neurodiverse child, you're likely intimately familiar with its weight. Imagine it as an invisible backpack you carry everyday, filled with an endless to-do list that's etched into your mind. This mental load encompasses the cognitive and emotional work involved in managing all of your needs and your family’s needs.
For moms of neurodiverse children, this load can feel especially heavy.
It's not just about ensuring your child gets dressed and finishes homework. It involves coordinating therapy sessions, doctor's appointments, and IEP meetings. It’s making sure they’re getting enough exercise, movement, and sensory stimulation. It’s buying a new shirt and hoping the seams aren’t too uncomfortable. It’s thinking of ways to adapt their routine once winter comes.
The mental load is this unending cycle of responsibilities that keeps you awake at night, making sure nothing falls through the cracks. It's the constant worry, planning, and organizing that defines your daily life. It’s thinking about the dishes that are in the sink and the plans for dinner tonight (and tomorrow and the next night and the next night).
The mental load may be invisible, but it can be incredibly heavy. It’s not only the tasks themselves that weigh you down, but just thinking about the tasks can be remarkably heavy.
This mental load is significant and can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. But you're not alone, and recognizing this burden is the first step to managing it.
Here’s a few essential tips to help lighten the mental load:
Centralize and Organize:
Create a centralized system for managing appointments, therapies, and important documents. Use a calendar on your refrigerator or a digital calendar app that can be viewed and updated by multiple family members. This can help ensure that everyone involved can access the necessary information, reducing the individual mental load. For younger kiddos, consider creating a visual calendar to help them understand dates, activities, and routines through visual cues. Take the time to find what works for you and your family.
Delegate and Collaborate:
Schedule regular family meetings to discuss the upcoming week, delegate tasks, and share responsibilities. Yes, it can be hard to ask for help, and just knowing what to ask can feel like a task in and of itself. But collaborative communication promotes shared accountability and helps distribute the mental load. Encourage family members to take on specific roles and tasks. Sometimes, creating a shared to-list for the day or the week can help lighten the load, too.
When you’re carrying the invisible backpack of the mental load, self-care often gets left behind. Caring for your child and family is a top priority, but don't forget to prioritize self-care. Develop self-care rituals that provide moments of relaxation and rejuvenation. Even if it's just a few minutes each day, taking time to recharge is essential to maintaining your emotional well-being. Building a support network of friends, support groups, or who understand your unique challenges can also help alleviate the emotional burden, providing you with insights and a shoulder to lean on.
We frequently keep the weight of the mental load to ourselves, yet sharing our experiences and discussing it with others can be a tremendous source of relief and a means to collectively bear its weight. By centralizing, delegating, and prioritizing self-care, you can help manage the mental load more effectively and ensure the well-being of both you and your family.
Written by Michaela Zoppa, LPC. Michaela is a therapist with Grace & Gratitude Counseling (GGC), a practice of women serving women in Illinois. GGC serves women and teen girls struggling with anxiety and trauma, often presenting as overthinking, people-pleasing, toxic perfectionism, panic, depression, relationships difficulties, mom guilt, and more. Book a free consultation today!